Word of The Day for Monday, October 4, 2010


was•sail     / WAH-sul


1. an early English toast to someone's health
2. a hot drink that is made with wine, beer, or cider, spices, sugar, and usually baked apples and is traditionally served in a large bowl especially at Christmastime
3. riotous drinking : revelry

verb, intransitive
1. to indulge in wassail : carouse
2. to sing carols from house to house at Christmas

verb, transitive
to drink to the health or thriving of

wassailing present participle


Synonyms: bender, binge, bust, carousal, drunk, jamboree, spree, toot, carouse

• For we've wassail'd all this day long, and nothing we could find, Except an owl in an ivy bush, and her we left behind, with a wassail &c. 1872
• Of that wassail men told great tale, And wassail when they were at ale, and drinkhail to them that drank, Thus was wassail ta'en to thank. 1856

The Storyline

But whatever nascent clarity Anna was about to be upon was wrenched from her consciousness by the cacophony from the apartment across the hall as the boys were returning from an all night wassail.


The salutation "wassail," from the Old Norse toast "ves heill" ("be well"), from ves, imperative of vesa "to be" + heill "healthy", has accompanied English toast-making since the 12th century. Use as a drinking phrase appears to have arisen among Danes in England and spread to native inhabitants. By the 13th century, "wassail" was being used for the drink itself, and it eventually came to be used especially of a hot drink (of wine, beer, or cider with spices, sugar, and usually baked apples) drunk around Christmastime. This beverage warmed the stomachs and hearts of many Christmas revelers and was often shared with Christmas carolers. The verb "wassail" was first used in the 14th century to describe the carousing associated with indulgence in the drink; later, it was used of other activities associated with wassail and the holiday season, like caroling. Seventeenth-century farmers added cattle and trees to the wassail tradition by drinking to their health or vitality during wintertime festivities. Meaning "a carousal, reveling" first attested 1602. Wassailing "custom of going caroling house to house at Christmas time" is recorded from 1742.

Sources: Merriam-Webster, Online Etymology

Why This Word:

Here we come a wassailing.

For most of us, if we know it at all, wassail is thoroughly wed to Christmas. And perhaps it is this very association, along with the old-fashioned-ness of the word, that a conveys a certain innocence and allows us, among its other meanings, to refer to a rowdy drunken revelry with the taint of modern judgment.

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

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